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In this short and punchy guide I will show you, step by step, how to build your own ship map like the one below. I recorded the process (you will see snippets below) and it took me only eight minutes on my first attempt. And if I can do it, so can you!

We will be using Photoshop for this guide, but Gimp or Paint.NET are just as capable yet free. You need only Google their alternatives to some of the Photoshop functions I will mention.

Sailing Ship Map Assets, build your own sailing ship map banner

Without further adieu…

Download the Ship Map Assets you’ll need

At the very least you’ll need the Sailing Ship Assets, but you may also enjoy some of our others. You can fully furnish your ship, or make it fit for the skies, for example. I’ll link a few hand-picked items for you below:

  • Sailing Ship Map Assets, build your own sailing ship map
    Sailing Ship Assets
    PWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
  • Airships & Assets RPG Graphics, Mockup
    Airships & Assets
    PWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
  • Mansion Furniture
    Mansion Furniture Tokens
    PWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00

Create a canvas for your ship

When we create our canvas we must decide the dimensions and purpose of our ship.

Dots Per Inch (DPI) is the most important setting. I won’t go into its definition here, but know that you’ll need to set it to 300 for print, 72 for Roll20, and 60 for Fantasy Grounds.

You can always reduce DPI later, but you cannot increase it. Increasing it will obliterate your image quality. So long as your computer can handle it, I would choose 300 DPI.

Canvas size is another story, and it can stretch and shrink at any point. I recommend starting out with a 25×15″ canvas, as this will fit the largest of our hull assets. You should be able to specify inches instead of pixels here but, if you can’t, just calculate it yourself. The DPI you selected will also be the width of a one-inch grid square.

Lay Down Those Sailing Ship Map Assets!

It’s time to dive in. Unzip the map assets that you downloaded. Inside, you will find a few folders with the DPI marked in the filename. Remembering the DPI you selected earlier, open up the corresponding folder and lay it on your screen next to your image editor window.

Now it’s just a matter of drag and drop!

If you selected your DPI correctly and it matches the assets (see the folder name again) then assets imported in this way will already be scaled correctly. Failing that, each asset filename states the intended size when placed on a grid. “(22×5)” for example, means 22 squares wide, and 5 tall. Just transform them to the correct size.

I begin with the frame of the ship (the assets called “Railing”), defining the hull, then the different levels. Next, the stairs, the ship’s wheel, and the masts. Only with these vital components down do I start sprinkling in hatches, blocks, and structural planks.

Don’t forget those structural planks, by the way, they look great! With these and all your other bits, be mindful of where they are in the layer order. Generally, railings should always be at the top, planks at the bottom, and everything else in-between.

Three useful shortcuts

1. The Move tool

Your main tool will be the move tool. Set this to auto-select layer, and it will keep you from getting lost in your many layers. You can also use it in this way to select assets already on the canvas, especially useful for…

2. The Copy Layer shortcut

With the move tool, hold Alt to copy the layer you next click and move. This is a great time saver, especially when mass-placing structural planks.

3. The Transform function

Press Ctrl+T to transform a layer. This allows you to resize, rotate, and otherwise manipulate it. You can also right-click the transform box and flip it vertically or horizontally – essential when you need to complete your railing!

Your Ship Map Needs a Deck

So far we have built our ship map on a white canvas, as I find the deck texture rather distracting. Only once your ship is built do I recommend adding the deck.

The deck asset tile seamlessly, so place enough of these end-to-end to cover the floor of your ship. Next, merge them into a single layer, and then cut off the overflow appearing outside your intended deck. I use the lasso tool and a mask, but the eraser will do.

Take To The Seas!

That just about does it! It’s time to export and enjoy your new battle map.

If you are so inclined, you can repeat the process to create an interior map too. I do this by putting all the deck layers in a layer group, reducing the opacity, and building the interior over the top. This way, you easily get all the masts and other important structural pieces lined up.

Here’s mine. You can find this example ship in the Sailing Ship Assets download, by the way.

Have Questions, Tips, Comments?

Please leave them below. I have a few tricks left myself and plan to make an advanced guide for people skilled in Photoshop. I would love to include your tips too. I’m also happy to answer questions in the comments.

What Next?

Please, show me what you made! It brings me endless joy. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr.

If you enjoyed these assets and this guide, you might consider supporting my efforts on Patreon. There’s exclusive map variants, PSD files, and a great community to be gained in it! I hope to see you there.

For exclusive map variants and even the PSD files, consider joining the amazing community that makes these maps possible:

I also have many more maps and assets, most of which are free thanks to said lovely Patrons. You can check out my gallery below:

  • Ocean sea water tile texture map assets, preview
    Ocean Water Textures
    PWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
  • galleon sailing ship map
    The Galleon
    PWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
  • The Schooner
    The Schooner
    PWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00

About the author

Ross McConnell

DM, aspiring artist, and founder of 2-Minute Tabletop! I love drawing, writing, and worldbuilding, and this is the website where all of it comes together.

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  1. Whelp, it seemed like a great idea. But honestly? It’s not very simple. You’re using tools I don’t know in the guide and they are sped up too fast to see what you are using. In practice, it’s not that easy to place the files where you want them. A better guide would make this an awesome resource.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Kevin. This guide is intended for those with basic skills in image editing, as it would be an ungainly mess to explain the basics, and this is better done elsewhere on the internet.

      It doesn’t help that the time lapses are probably distracting from the instructions, sorry about that!

      I’m working on a pack of pre-built ships that will cut out most of the image editor work. Stay tuned for that. 😉

      And to answer your specific question on finely placing the assets, you can hold Ctrl to prevent snapping and place them precisely where the mouse is. If that’s not fine enough, zoom in first.

  2. I agree. For someone that does not know the software, there is a HUGE learning curve. I am slowly figuring it out by trial and error, but I can’t even figure out how to turn on grids on GIMP and it took forever to figure out how to set dpi and image size. Not intuitive to a NEWB.

    1. Indeed! I only wish to teach battle-map-specific stuff, because there are plenty of tutorials out there for the basics that are better than what I could create, and putting them in here would only bloat the article once you have learned them. I recommend this site if anyone runs into a GIMP-specific roadblock: https://docs.gimp.org/

  3. Are these maps for online playing plataforms? (Tabletop, roll20, etc.)
    Do you consider a good idea to print it and play on it? How do you use your own maps? Thanks! I love your content.

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Published: April 13, 2019

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